Chapter 12


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Section Titles
Childhood and Youth—1827-44
Call and Early Ministry—1844-48
Discovering Bible Truth
Ministry in a Growing Movement—1849-63
Developing Organization
The Claims of Ellen G. White
Childhood and Youth—1827-1844.
Call and Early Ministry—1844-1848.
Beginning to Publish.
Ministry in a Growing Movement—1849-1863.
Developing Organization.

Most human beings live and move in an undistinguished channel. One's pattern of birth, youth, marriage, maturity, and death, interspersed with measles, minor triumphs, and heartaches, varies only in personal details from that of thousands of others in similar situations. In such cases the circle of influence may not stretch far beyond the home, immediate neighbors, limited social activities, and fellow workmen. But there are other lives that rise far above the ordinary and take on significance and invite retelling and analysis. The life of Ellen Gould Harmon White fits into this classification.

Childhood and Youth—1827-44

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At the time of the disappointment of October 22, 1844, Ellen Harmon was almost seventeen. Born November 26, 1827, to Robert and Eunice Harmon at their farm home a few miles from Gorham, Maine, Ellen came from an ancestry of hardy New England pioneers. She was one of twin girls in a family of eight children. Robert Harmon gave up farming when the twins were about seven years old, and the family moved to Portland, Maine, where the father took up his trade as a hatter.

When she was nine, Ellen was severely injured by a stone thrown by a schoolmate. The accident nearly took her life, and its effects were felt for many years. She was so physically weakened that it was impossible for her to continue her schooling. Eager for an education, she made several unsuccessful attempts to further it. However, she received training in household


duties, and in her own home continued to develop mentally in spite of ill health.

At the age of twelve, she was baptized by immersion, at her own insistence, and received into membership in the Methodist Church. Her conversion took place while she was attending a Methodist camp meeting. Her spiritual experience seems to have been an unusual one for a child of her age—her convictions were clear and her decisions firm. She told the following incidents in connection with her conversion and baptism: “One of the mothers in Israel came to me and said, ‘Dear child, have you found Jesus?’ I was about to answer, ‘Yes,’ when she exclaimed, ‘Indeed you have; His peace is with you, I see it in your face !’

“Again and again I said to myself: ‘Can this be religion? Am I not mistaken?’ It seemed too much for me to claim, too exalted a privilege. Though too timid to confess it openly, I felt that the Saviour had blessed me and pardoned my sins.”—Life Sketches, page 24.

“Young as I was, I could see but one mode of baptism authorized by the Scriptures, and that was immersion. Some of my Methodist sisters tried in vain to convince me that sprinkling was Bible baptism. The Methodist minister consented to immerse the candidates if they conscientiously preferred that method, although he intimated that sprinkling would be equally acceptable with God.”—Ibid., p. 25.

In March, 1840, and again in June, 1842, Ellen Harmon, with other members of the family and friends, listened to the preaching of William Miller at the Casco Street church in Portland, Maine. They were convinced that his reasoning on the fulfillment of the prophecies was correct. Ellen's reaction to Miller's preaching is made clear in these sentences: “Mr. Miller's manner of preaching was not flowery or oratorical, but he dealt in plain and startling facts, that roused his hearers from their careless indifference. He supported his statements and theories by Scripture proof as he progressed. A convincing power


attended his words, that seemed to stamp them as the language of truth.”—Ibid., p. 27.

The acceptance of Miller's teachings by the Harmon family led to their being disfellowshiped from the Chestnut Street Methodist Church in 1843. This was the experience of hundreds of others who believed in the soon return of Christ.

The disappointment of October 22 affected the Harmon family as it did thousands of others. Earnest work had been done to prepare their lives for the coming of the Saviour. “Every moment seemed to me of the utmost importance. I felt that we were doing work for eternity, and that the careless and uninterested were in the greatest peril. My faith was unclouded, and I appropriated to myself the precious promises of Jesus.”—Ibid., p. 60. It was this thorough preparation that held some of the disappointed ones through that difficult period. “It was a bitter disappointment that fell upon the little flock whose faith had been so strong and whose hope had been so high. But we were surprised that we felt so free in the Lord, and were so strongly sustained by His strength and grace…. We were disappointed, but not disheartened.”—Ibid., p. 61.

Call and Early Ministry—1844-48

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On an unspecified day in December, 1844, Ellen Harmon received what she and others of the advent group recognized as a revelation from God. It showed them that if they continued to walk in the light that had been guiding them into an understanding of the advent message, they would be led ultimately to the City of God. (This vision should be read in Early Writings, pages 13-20, or Life Sketches, pages 64-68.) In her second vision, about a week later, she saw something of the trials that she would experience, and she was instructed to tell others of what had been made known to her. Ellen was young, ill, retiring, and unused to associating with many people. She felt that she could not accept the commission, and she pleaded with


God to remove the burden from her. However, the sense of responsibility did not leave, but there sounded in her ears repeatedly the command, “Make known to others what I have revealed to you.”—Life Sketches, page 69. Finally the prayers of friends, united with her own, led her to the decision that there was nothing she could do but follow God's bidding.

Ellen Harmon's first testimonies were borne in the State of Maine, at the towns of Portland, Poland, and Orrington, to small groups of believers. Incidentally, it was at Orrington that she first met James White. Soon she visited Exeter, Maine, where she told what had been shown her regarding some fanatical persons present at the meeting. When she returned to her home she sensed God's approval of the work she had done.

As the months passed, the circle of Ellen Harmon's travels widened to include nearby states. Much of her time and many of her testimonies were devoted to helping solve the problems that arose among the scattered groups who were bewildered by the disappointment. The groups had not yet been drawn together in a unit. There was no system of beliefs to serve as a guide to test the doctrines. False teachings, fanaticism, and the misrepresentation of spiritual experience were all too common among the groups. Not many were involved in the errors, but those few were a constant source of danger and irritation to unbelievers and members of other churches. The fact that Ellen Harmon's revelations were pertinent to the problems at hand, and frequently succeeded in helping find solutions to those problems, impressed the minds of the advent believers. As confidence was established in the fact that God was leading through the revelations, a drawing together of the sincere and faithful believers resulted.

On August 30, 1846, Ellen Harmon was united in marriage to James White, a young adventist preacher who had been active in the Millerite movement. Many years later, James White made this comment about their marriage: “And from that hour to the present she has been my crown of rejoicing.”—


James White and Ellen G. White, Life Sketches of lames White and Ellen G. White, page 126. The newlyweds were poor in this world's goods, but rich in faith, and they were filled with an impassioned longing to help speed the return of Christ. Ellen White remarked concerning her husband: “Elder White had enjoyed a deep experience in the advent movement, and his labors in proclaiming the truth had been blessed of God. Our hearts were united in the great work, and together we traveled and labored for the salvation of souls.”—Ellen G. White, Life Sketches, page 97. In their usual program James White preached a doctrinal sermon and his wife followed with “an exhortation of considerable length, melting my way into the feelings of the congregation. Thus my husband sowed and I watered the seed of truth, and God did give the increase.”—Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 75.

Not long after their marriage, the Whites began to observe and to teach the seventh-day Sabbath. Early in 1846, Ellen Harmon's attention had been called to the fourth commandment by Joseph Bates, whom she met while on a visit to New Bedford, Massachusetts. At first she did not sense the importance of the commandment, and felt that Bates was putting too much emphasis on it. A later study of Bates's tract, “The Sevventh-day Sabbath a Perpetual Sign,” led the couple to accept the Sabbath. The position they had taken was confirmed in a vision given Ellen White on Sabbath, April 2, 1847, in which she saw the tables of stone containing the Ten Commandments, with a halo of light surrounding the fourth. In a letter to J. N. Loughborough, in 1874, Ellen White recalled: “I believed the truth upon the Sabbath question before I had seen anything in vision in reference to the Sabbath. It was months after I had commenced keeping the Sabbath before I was shown its importance and its place in the third angel's message.”—Ellen G. White Letter 2, 1874. (The record of the vision will be found in Early Writings, pages 32-35.)

The first of four sons was born to James and Ellen White


a year after their marriage, and a little more than a month later they were offered rooms in the Stockbridge Howland home at Topsham, Maine, where they set up housekeeping with borrowed furniture. Times were hard. James White worked at hauling stone on the railroad for fifty cents a day, or chopped cordwood at twenty-five cents a cord. “We were resolved to suffer rather than get in debt. I allowed myself and child one pint of milk each day. One morning before my husband went to his work, he left me nine cents to buy milk for three mornings. It was a study with me whether to buy the milk for myself and babe or get an apron for him. I gave up the milk, and purchased the cloth for an apron to cover the bare arms of my child.”—Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 83. On many occasions money was miraculously provided for the barest essentials and to pay expenses of travel to the many places they were urged to visit where they could meet with groups of believers. They were coming to occupy a central place among the various advent groups scattered through New England.*

Discovering Bible Truth

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The years 1845-48 were a period of intensive study on the part of those who had passed through the disappointment and who still maintained their confidence in the second advent. They were determined to discover additional Bible truth. They met to study and pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who, they believed, would lead them into all truth. This study reached a climax in 1848, when a number of conferences were held and the Bible truths began to be clarified and correlated. Five meetings were of particular value in the unifying process. Two were held in Rocky Hill, Connecticut, and others at Volney, New York, Port Gibson, New York, and Topsham, Maine. It is important that we note what they did in these meetings and the part that Ellen White had in them.

* The record of this period would be incomplete without mention of the visions of William Foy and Hazen Foss. For a brief account, see Appendix C, pages 485-489.


“Many of our people do not realize how firmly the foundation of our faith has been laid. My husband, Elder Joseph Bates, Father Pierce, Elder Edson, and others who were keen, noble, and true, were among those who, after the passing of the time in 1844, searched for the truth as for hidden treasure. I met with them, and we studied and prayed earnestly. Often we remained together until late at night, and sometimes through the entire night, praying for light and studying the word. Again and again these brethren came together to study the Bible, in order that they might know its meaning, and be prepared to teach it with power. When they came to the point in their study where they said, ‘We can do nothing more,’ the Spirit of the Lord would come upon me, I would be taken off in vision, and a clear explanation of the passages we had been studying would be given me, with instruction as to how we were to labor and teach effectively. Thus light was given that helped us to understand the scriptures in regard to Christ, His mission, and His priesthood. A line of truth extending from that time to the time when we shall enter the city of God, was made plain to me, and I gave to others the instruction that the Lord had given me.

“During this whole time I could not understand the reasoning of the brethren. My mind was locked, as it were, and I could not comprehend the meaning of the scriptures we were studying. This was one of the greatest sorrows of my life. I was in this condition of mind until all the principal points of our faith were made clear to our minds, in harmony with the word of God. The brethren knew that when not in vision, I could not understand these matters, and they accepted as light direct from heaven the revelations given.”—Ellen G. White, Special Testimony Series B., No. 2, pp. 56, 57. Reprinted in Arthur L. White, Ellen G. White, Messenger to the Remnant, pages 38, 39.

The understandings of the basic doctrines arrived at during the conferences of 1848 are essentially the same as ours today.


A solid foundation was built on the Scriptures, and the Bible students were guided toward correct interpretations through the revelations given Ellen White. This young woman had an important part in building the structure of Bible doctrines adopted by the early adventists and strengthened through the years by Seventh-day Adventists.

Ministry in a Growing Movement—1849-63

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In November, 1848, during a meeting at Dorchester, Massachusetts, Ellen White was given a vision in which there was revealed to her the duty of the brethren to begin to publish the light that had come to them. “After coming out of vision, I said to my husband: ‘I have a message for you. You must begin to print a little paper and send it out to the people. Let it be small at first; but as the people read, they will send you means with which to print, and it will be a success from the first. From this small beginning it was shown to me to be like streams of light that went clear round the world.’”—Life Sketches, page 125.

In the summer of 1849, the conviction came to James White that the time had arrived to follow the instruction given in the vision. One July day he brought to the Belden home, in Rocky Hill, Connecticut, a thousand copies of the first issue of The Present Truth, which had been printed on credit by Charles Pelton, at Middletown, eight miles away. The Whites had been staying with the Beldens, and several times during the preparation of the paper, James had walked to Middletown and back to read proofs and check the progress of the work. When it came time to take the papers from the printing office, he borrowed the Belden buggy to bring them home. July, August, and September saw a total of four numbers of the little paper sent out. Money was sent in by readers to defray the expense of publication.

Later that autumn, publication was suspended while the



Whites attended meetings. When James White undertook publication again, he found that the response was not so hearty as it had been when the paper first came out. Even Joseph Bates discouraged him from continuing the work, so White decided to give up the project. In a letter written January 10, 1850, he told how his plans were changed. “Last night [January 9, 1850] … Ellen had the following view in relation to The Present Truth: ‘I saw the paper, and that it was needed. That souls were hungry for the truth that must be written in the paper. I saw that if the paper stopped for want of means, and those hungry sheep died for want of the paper, it would not be James' fault, but it would be the fault of those to whom God had lent His money…. I saw that God did not want James to stop yet; but he must write, write, write, write, and speed the message and let it go. I saw that it would go where God's servants cannot go.’”—James White Letter, Jan. 10, 1850, Record Book 1, pp. 51, 52.

The paper was continued, and, in addition, another paper, The Advent Review, was produced during the summer of 1850. These were succeeded in November, 1850, by an enlarged journal called The Second Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, whose publication has continued for more than a century. In the visions and instructions given to Ellen White through the years we find the inspiration that has built a world-belting system of publishing houses, turning out Seventh-day Adventist books, tracts, and periodicals in about two hundred languages.

Another important event took place in 1849 in the White home. At just about the time the first issue of The Present Truth was being sent out, the couple's second son was born. “In June, 1849, the way was opened for us to make our home for a time at Rocky Hill, Connecticut. Here, on the 28th of July, our second child, James Edson, was born.”—Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 87. The Whites were normal parents in their love and care for their children. It was a heartbreaking experience


for them to have to leave the little ones behind in order to meet the numerous appointments with the groups of believers. When James Edson was about seven months old, James White wrote to the Hastings, who were among their closest friends, “Ellen is well. She would write if she could, but has not time. She has some writing of her visions to do, and bub is teething, and is troublesome.”—James White Letter, Jan. 10, 1850, Record Book 1, p. 53. Ellen herself wrote, some time later, “Babe is cutting teeth and it takes nearly all of my time to take care of him just now.”—Ellen G. White Letter 18, 1850. On one occasion, after an extended absence from home, she noted an incident which gives an insight into her feelings. “My little one is with me; he knew me when I got home. I had been gone from him two months. He first looked at me, then flung his little arms around my neck.”—Ellen G. White Letter 8, 1850.

During these early years messages were sent by Ellen White to the still unorganized advent believers in the form of broadsides, individual letters, and articles in The Present Truth. No book of messages had yet been published. The first book, a small one of sixty-four pages, was issued in 1851 under the title, A Sketch of the Christian Experience and Views of Ellen G. White. The “views” referred to the visions that had been given to her. This book now forms the first part of Early Writings. Four years later, the first of a long series of pamphlets, entitled Testimony for the Church, came from the press. In due time these were gathered, republished, and eventually reached their present form in the nine volumes of the Testimonies for the Church.

James and Ellen White moved frequently from place to place. During the first years they went out from Gorham, Portland, and Topsham, in Maine. Then three months were spent at Rocky Hill, Connecticut, and six at Oswego, New York. From there they moved to Auburn, New York, for a short stay, and on to Paris, Maine, and Saratoga Springs, New York, and finally to Rochester, New York, where they carried on their


publishing venture for three years. In 1855, they moved to Battle Creek, Michigan, where the publishing office remained for forty-eight years. Always their moves were in the interest of the developing work, not because of personal preferences or benefits. Ellen White's description of some of their activities while living at Rohester seems to be typical of the whole period:

“From time to time we went out to attend Conferences in different parts of the field. My husband preached, sold books, and labored to extend the circulation of the paper. We traveled by private conveyance, and stopped at noon to feed our horse by the roadside, and to eat our lunch. Then with paper and pencil, on the cover of our dinner box or the top of his hat, my husband wrote articles for the Review and Instructor. The Lord greatly blessed our labors, and the truth affected many hearts.”—Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 91.

The move to Battle Creek was a landmark in the development of the advent movement. For the first time permanent headquarters were established. A building was erected for the publishing house, and counsel and financial support were pledged. Believers in the town helped the Whites get land and build a house, and Battle Creek was home for the couple for the next seventeen years. Thus the publishing work, started in fulfillment of the commission given through the vision, became established at the center of the growing work. Later the publishing project was incorporated and became the denomination's first legal body on May 3, 1861.

Since the center of the work was now in Michigan, it was possible for the Whites to give more attention to the work in the Middle West. Their preaching tours took them to Illinois, Iowa, and Ohio. It was during a trip through Ohio in 1858 that the vision regarding the great controversy between Christ and Satan was given. The little book written as a result marked the beginning of what was to develop into the five volumes of the Conflict of the Ages Series.


Developing Organization

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Linked closely with the growth of the publishing work during this period was an increasing sense of need for some type of organization through which all phases of the movement could be directed. Because the leaders devoted the major part of their time to the preaching of the message, they gave little thought to the need for organization. From 1844-49 it had been practically impossible for the advent believers to reach anyone outside their circle with the message. The disappointment was too fresh in the minds of men and women everywhere. Then, too, the believers had not at first understood the responsibility they had for those around them. After 1849 doors began to open before them, and there were increasing opportunities to carry the message. However, no particular preparation had been made to take advantage of these opening opportunities. There was no organization or plan for the propagation of the message.

Another factor complicated the situation. Many of the Millerite preachers believed that no new organization should be formed, for they feared that any new body would immediately become a part of Babylon, and the call was to come out of Babylon. It seems that the believers generally subscribed to this belief. One of the barriers to the formation of an organization was the old conviction that lingered in many minds.

On the other hand, as the number of adherents to the advent beliefs increased, the number of reasons for having an organization multiplied. If they were to meet as groups, meeting places would have to be provided, and who would hold title to the property? Would this be left in the hands of an individual? Who would determine the candidates that should be accepted as members of the church? Who would define doctrinal positions? Would each individual and group follow his own inclinations and introduce any variations he chose? Who would appoint and check the qualifications of workers, and who would


provide some means of financial support for them? If it were necessary to discipline some member or worker, who would be responsible for that? How should the publishing work be organized? Who would be in charge of preaching the message in new fields? All these questions and more faced the leaders, and they looked to God for guidance. The practical needs of the cause demanded that some steps be taken to establish a system of church order.

A vision given Ellen White in December, 1850, brought the need into focus: “I saw how great and holy God was. Said the angel, ‘Walk carefully before Him, for He is high and lifted up, and the train of His glory fills the temple.’ I saw that everything in heaven was in perfect order. Said the angel, ‘Look ye, Christ is the head, move in order, move in order. Have a meaning to everything.’ Said the angel, ‘Behold ye and know how perfect, how beautiful, the order in heaven; follow it.’”—Ellen G. White Manuscript 11, 1850.

One of the first definite steps in that direction was taken at a general meeting held in Washington, New Hampshire, beginning October 31, 1851. Problems had arisen with some who were holding strange views of prophetic interpretation and were creating contention among the believers. Note the instruction that inspired the move in the direction of establishing church order. James White tells the story:

“The burden of the meeting was church order, pointing out the errors of —— and —— and the importance of church action as to the course of some brethren. Ellen had a vision. Saw that the frown of God was on us as a people because the accursed thing was in the camp, that is, errors among us, and that the church must act; and the only way to do Brethren —— and —— good was to withdraw fellowship from them in their present position. All acted on the light given. All received the vision, and even to an individual, all raised the hand to withdraw fellowship from them.”—James White Letter, Nov. 11, 1851, Record Book 1, pp. 162, 163. See A. L. White, op. cit., p. 45.


Reporting the meeting in the Review and Herald of November 25, 1851, White told of the choosing of a committee of seven to care for the needs of the poor, in harmony with the example of Acts 6.

On November 7, meetings began at Johnson, Vermont. The same Review gives this report: “Gospel order, and perfect union among the brethren, especially those who preach the word, were also dwelt upon, and all seemed to feel the importance of following our perfect guide, the Bible, on these subjects, as well as all others.” Questions and doubts continued to arise in some minds as to the advisability of organization, and it was more than a decade before it was possible to bring about a general union of those who had accepted the doctrines of the second advent and the seventh-day Sabbath.

When a supplement to Ellen White's first book appeared early in 1854, there was included an article titled “Gospel Order,” which was destined to bear considerable weight in many minds as to the need for church organization. “The Lord has shown that gospel order has been too much feared and neglected. Formality should be shunned; but in so doing, order should not be neglected. There is order in heaven. There was order in the church when Christ was upon the earth; and after His departure order was strictly observed among His apostles. And now in these last days, while God is bringing His children into the unity of the faith, there is more real need of order than ever before; for, as God unites His children, Satan and his evil angels are very busy to prevent this unity and to destroy it.”—Ellen G. White, Supplement to Christian Experience and Views of Ellen G. White, page 15. Now found in Early Writings, page 97. Following this general call for gospel order, the article deals with problems of unqualified workers going into the field, the responsibility of the church, the example of the early Christian church, the type of men needed for the ministry, and the need for going into new fields. Several years passed before an actual organization was developed, but


instruction given through Ellen White had focused attention on the need for, and God's attitude toward, organization.

By the spring of 1863, churches in several states responded to the counsel and banded together to form state conferences. They elected officers to lead out in the work in each conference. Then the Michigan conference issued an invitation to the several state conferences to send delegates to a general conference at Battle Creek. The time agreed upon was May 20-23, 1863. At this session the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists was formed, the name having been accepted in a Battle Creek meeting in September, 1860. The long struggle to bring order out of chaos was producing results. God had indicated that order should be established and maintained, but He had not revealed exactly how it should be achieved or what form it should take. That had been left for earnest men, praying for wisdom, to work out. Seldom has the Lord prescribed details of specific patterns to be followed. Principles have been given, which, if followed, lead to practical and workable results.

Ellen White's testimonies were not devoted entirely to guiding the development of the church and its work. Frequently there were reproofs and rebukes to be given and measures of correction suggested. Her first testimony for the church was of the nature of rebuke for the advent body as a whole, and for the ministers in particular. (See Testimonies, vol. 1, pp. 113 ff.) From the very beginning of her work, messages of similar character were a vital part of her communications.

The Claims of Ellen G. White

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We must pause at this point in our survey of the life and work of Ellen White to investigate briefly her understanding of the work that had been given her to do. This topic will be dealt with at considerably greater length in later chapters, but in order to gain a proper perspective we need to understand what she claimed for herself and her work.


In describing her first vision, Mrs. White had said: “As God has shown me the travels of the Advent people to the Holy City, … it may be my duty to give you a short sketch of what God has revealed to me.”—Early Writings, pages 13, 14. Repeatedly through her writings there appear such expressions as “I saw,” “The Lord revealed to me,” “The Lord showed me,” and “I was shown,” indicating that she claimed to receive supernatural revelations from God, which she believed it was her duty to pass on to individuals, groups, churches, or to the church as a whole. She related a large number of visions and dreams that came to her, and told of specific instruction sent by God for the guidance of the advent people.

In the introduction to one of Ellen White's most widely circulated books, she describes the source of her information. “Through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, the scenes of the long-continued conflict between good and evil have been opened to the writer of these pages. From time to time I have been permitted to behold the working, in different ages, of the great controversy between Christ, the Prince of life, the Author of our salvation, and Satan, the prince of evil, the author of sin, the first transgressor of God's holy law…. As the Spirit of God has opened to my mind the great truths of His word, and the scenes of the past and the future, I have been bidden to make known to others that which has thus been revealed,—to trace the history of the controversy in past ages, and especially so to present it as to shed a light on the fast-approaching struggle of the future.”—Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, pages x, xi. In view of the reception of these many revelations and messages, what did she claim was her position?

“I have had no claims to make, only that l am instructed that I am the Lord's messenger; that He called me in my youth to be His messenger, to receive His word, and to give a clear and decided message in the name of the Lord Jesus.

“Early in my youth I was asked several times, Are you a prophet? I have ever responded, I am the Lord's messenger.


I know that many have called me a prophet, but I have made no claim to this title. My Saviour declared me to be His messenger. ‘Your work,’ He instructed me, ‘is to bear My word. Strange things will arise, and in your youth I set you apart to bear the message to the erring ones, to carry the word before unbelievers, and with pen and voice to reprove from the Word actions that are not right. Exhort from the Word. I will make My Word open to you. It shall not be as a strange language. In the true eloquence of simplicity, with voice and pen, the messages that I give shall be heard from one who has never learned in the schools. My Spirit and My power shall be with you.’ …

“Why have I not claimed to be a prophet?—Because in these days many who boldly claim that they are prophets are a reproach to the cause of Christ; and because my work includes much more than the word ‘prophet’ signifies….

“To claim to be a prophetess is something that I have never done. If others call me by that name, I have no controversy with them. But my work has covered so many lines that I cannot call myself other than a messenger, sent to bear a message from the Lord to His people, and to take up work in any line that He points out.”—Review and Herald, July 26, 1906.

To anyone even slightly acquainted with Ellen White's works, there can be no question that, while she did not lay claim to the name of “prophet,” she most certainly believed that the Lord worked through her in the same manner as He did in the ancient prophets. There were in her time, even as there are today, those who claimed to be prophets, but who brought reproach on the calling. As early as the spring of 1845, the main body of adventist believers took action at the Albany Conference warning against those claiming “special illumination.”—Advent Herald, May 14, 1845. This body did not include the group who eventually became Seventh-day Adventists, and it seems that Ellen Harmon was one of those against whom the group was warned.


Then, too, in many minds the work of a prophet was limited to that of foretelling the future. As the term is used in the Bible, it is broad enough to cover any kind of message or action on the part of the one who stands as the messenger of God to the people. But popular concepts had, and have, robbed the word of much of what it was intended to connote. In calling Ellen White His messenger, the Lord was endeavoring to convey the same thought that had originally been in the word “prophet.” As has happened so frequently, changing conditions and circumstances have led God to use the approach best suited to the minds of the men with whom He was dealing. If the term “prophet” was misunderstood or in disrepute, He would use another word with similar meaning, which could be more easily grasped and was not discredited.

Ellen White did not consider herself the leader of the church. In fact, she never occupied any official position. Her work was that of receiving messages from the Lord, and then, at the proper time and in a suitable manner, at the prompting of the Holy Spirit, she would pass them on to those for whom they were intended. This function she performed for more than seventy years. Her claim should be kept in mind as further consideration is given to her life and work in connection with the Seventh-day Adventist Church. As in the record given in this chapter, it will be seen that her influence was vital in every major step forward in the development of the church and the performance of its mission.


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1. Ellen Harmon was born November 26, 1827, near Gorham, Maine. An early childhood injury and ill health prevented her attendance at school after she was nine years old.

2. In her youth she showed spiritual inclinations, and she was baptized and joined the Methodist Church at the age of twelve.


3. During the period of her call and early ministry—1844-48—God gave Ellen Harmon White revelations that guided the disappointed adventists in their search for truth.

4. Her union in marriage with James White resulted in progressive teamwork in the advent cause. They worked toward unity and organization in the 1849-63 period of the growing advent movement.

5. Regular publishing of the message was begun in 1849 with the appearance of The Present Truth.

6. A general organization of the Sabbathkeeping adventist believers was brought about in May, 1863.

7. Ellen White's claim for her experience was that she had been chosen as the Lord's messenger. She did not adopt the name of “prophet,” but her work was comparable with that of prophets in former ages.


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1. Do you find anything in the record of the early life of Ellen White that suggests possible reasons for her choice to be God's messenger? Explain.

2. Through your reading find additional illustrations that reveal the interrelation between the life and work of Mrs. White and the development of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

3. At times the question is raised: If Ellen White and her associates were carrying God's message, why should God allow them to pass through such times of poverty, hardship, and trial? How would you answer the question?

4. How do you account for the willingness of so many mature men of strong character and convictions to accept reproof and counsel from a young woman, as did the pioneer adventists?


5. Make a careful study of the significance of the title Ellen White claimed God had given her—“I am the Lord's messenger.” How broadly can this be applied and understood?


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Haynes, Carlyle, B., The Gift of Prophecy, pp. 143-152. (Coming of the gift of prophecy.)

Read, W. E., The Bible, the Spirit of Prophecy, and the Church, pp. 78-113. (Perpetuity of spiritual gifts.)

Spicer, W. A., Certainties of the Advent Movement, pp. 181-200. (Spirit of prophecy in ancient and modern Israel.)

Childhood and Youth—1827-1844.

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Christian, L. H., The Fruitage of Spiritual Gifts, pp. 32-36, 49, 50. Washington, D. C., Review and Herald Publishing Assn., 1947.

Daniells, A. G., The Abiding Gift of Prophecy, pp. 258-275.

Spalding, A. W., Captains of the Host, pp. 58-76, 127.

———, Footprints of the Pioneers, pp. 59-67. Washington, D.C., Review and Herald Publishing Assn., 1947.

———, There Shines a Light, pp. 14-26. Nashville, Southern Publishing Assn., 1953.

Spicer, W. A., Pioneer Days of the Advent Movement, pp. 165-175, 183, 184. Washington, D.C., Review and Herald Publishing Assn., 1941.

———, The Spirit of Prophecy in the Advent Movement, pp, 27, 28, 67, 68. Washington, D.C., Review and Herald Publishing Assn., 1937.

White, Ellen G., Christian Experience and Teachings, pp 13-56.

———, Early Writings, pp. 11-13.

———, Life Sketches, pp. 17-63.

———, Spiritual Gifts, vol. 2, pp. 7-30.

———, Testimonies for the Church, vol. I, pp. 9-58.

Call and Early Ministry—1844-1848.

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Christian, L. H., The Fruitage of Spiritual Gifts, pp. 36-38, 205, 206.

Daniells, A. G., The Abiding Gift of Prophecy, pp. 258-263, 265-275.

Froom, L. E., The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 4, pp. 1021-1048 (Sabbath conferences).

Loughborough, J. N., The Great Second Advent Movement, pp. 201-213, 240-246. Nashville, Southern Publishing Assn., 1905.

Our Firm Foundation, vol. I, pp. 195-219.

Spalding, A. W., Captains of the Host, pp. 116-118, 128-133, 148, 149, 171-178, 411.

———, Footprints of the Pioneers, pp. 84-88, 99-105, 166, 174.

———, There Shines a Light, pp. 26-42.


Spicer, W. A., Pioneer Days of the Advent Movement, pp. 177-179.

———, The Spirit of Prophecy in the Advent Movement, pp. 32, 93, 94.

White, Ellen G., Christian Experience and Teachings, pp. 57-128, 237-243, 251.

———, Early Writings, pp. 13-24, 32-35, 41, 85.

———, Life Sketches, pp. 64-115.

———, Spiritual Gifts, vol. 2, pp. 30-114.

———, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1, pp. 58-87.

White, James, Life Sketches, pp. 231-234. (Dorchester, Mass., vision. Other interesting incidents in this book.)

Beginning to Publish.

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Loughborough, J. N., Rise and Progress of Seventh-day Adventists, pp. 196, 197, 203, 204. Battle Creek, General Conference Association of the Seventh-day Adventists, 1892.

Spalding, A. W., Captains of the Host, pp. 171-187, 239-252.

Spicer, W. A., The Spirit of Prophecy in the Advent Movement, pp. 72-77.

White, Ellen G., Christian Experience and Teachings, pp. 128-131, 140-150.

———, Life Sketches, pp. 125-128, 136-141.

———, Spiritual Gifts, vol. 2, pp. 114-127.

Ministry in a Growing Movement—1849-1863.

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Christian, L. H., The Fruitage of Spiritual Gifts, pp. 75-83, 88-93, 197, 198.

Daniells, A. G., The Abiding Gift of Prophecy, pp. 275, 276.

Our Firm Foundation, vol. 1, pp. 206-219.

Spalding, A. W., Captains of the Host, pp. 134-137, 149, 153, 182-185, 248-261, 271, 287, 288, 299, 307-315.

———, Christ's Last Legion, p. 189. Washington, D.C., Review and Herald Publishing Assn., 1949.

———, Footprints of the Pioneers, pp. 105-116, 138, 143, 150-153, 170-178.

———, There Shines a Light, pp. 43-47.

Spicer, W. A., Pioneer Days of the Advent Movement, pp. 175, 176, 185-187.

———, The Spirit of Prophecy in the Advent Movement, p. 69.

White, Ellen G., Christian Experience and Teachings, pp. 100-113, 128-191, 251, 253.

———, Early Writings, pp. 36-70, 86, 93, 95.

———, Life Sketches, pp. 116-166.

———, Spiritual Gifts, vol. 2, pp. 127-276.

———, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1, pp. 87-105.

Wilcox, F. M., The Testimony of Jesus, pp. 77, 78, 109, 110, 138-140, 155-157. Washington, D.C., Review and Herald Publishing Assn., 1944.


Developing Organization.

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Christian, L. H., The Fruitage of Spiritual Gifts, pp. 112-125.

Loughborough, J. N., Rise and Progress of Seventh-day Adventists, pp. 216, 217, 223-234.

Spalding, A. W., Captains of the Host, pp. 265-283.

Spicer, W. A., The Spirit of Prophecy in the Advent Movement, pp. 65-71.

White, Ellen G., Christian Experience and Teachings, pp. 192-205.

———, Testimonies to Ministers, pp. 24-32. (Same as in Christian Experience and Teachings.)

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